Working Towards Retirement is Like a Marathon

Every year there's a 12k race in San Francisco called Bay to Breakers, tomorrow will be the 103rd running of the race. Its path starts from the bay and ends at the breakers (where the waves break at the ocean, not an 80's hip hop dance crew battling it out to Run DMC).

Pointless Entitlement Awards
Somehow during the races 103 year history, the people of San Francisco turned it into a very "San Francisco" type of event. After the actual runners go, a parade of thousands of costumed participants follow behind, drinking and partying their way across the city. There is an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 participants (with about 33,000 participants that are actually registered in the race) most people, myself included just find the closest point of the race to their house and begin following the route to the hip hop crew that will meet you at the end. After 3 to 4 hours of drinking and stumbling up and down San Francisco hills I usually fizzle out and find a bus or cab to take me home for a late afternoon nap (since the drinking starts before 9am).

One year I dressed up as an apathetic coach, I wore warm-ups, a visor, and carried a whistle. I also had a bunch of participation awards - the most backhanded compliment if there ever was one - to hand out to the other drunk costumed people that obviously didn't come to run the race. Before I would give them an award I would ask them to "tell me something that you are mediocre at?" Let me tell you, people have a hard time admitting that they aren't very good at something. To help them stumble to an intoxicated answer I would throw out suggestions to jump start their brains:

"public speaking"
"Telling your significant other that you love them and appreciate them in your life."
"break dancing"
"money management"

Most people deferred to "public speaking" some people said, "thinking while I'm drunk." I don't believe anyone claimed to be mediocre at drinking... Go figure, everyone was a professional drinker there. As I said before, a participation award is like a back handed compliment, a pity prize for attempting something but not even coming close. You can't brag about it because everyone else got the same thing.

If working towards retirement is like a marathon, then the participation award is Social Security. After 30 years of working you get back a part of what you contributed over the years. It might be enough to barely scrape by in some parts of the country but not most, and if you have any sort of emergency, you won't be able to cover it.

Saving for retirement doesn't happen overnight, you have to start slowly and let your savings grow for years, decades in fact. The longer you save the better chance you have at a comfortable retirement. Even if you can't save a lot, save something, your future self will thank you for it because when you're done working you want to make sure that you have more than just a participation award to show for it.


  1. If only I ran marathons like I saved for my retirement. I spent a month training for a marathon and gave up in the end. I'm sticking with my 5k races.

  2. I've used this analogy myself. It's a marathon, not a sprint. A lot of people get caught up trying to save EVERY PENNY and burn out. It's about finding the big wins, living more mindfully, and finding a balance you can strike for the next few decades.

    Btw, I like the SS as a consolation prize idea. That's pretty much what it is. "Here ya go! Have some of your money back. Thanks for working your life away!"

  3. As a marathon runner, I can definitely identify with this. The thing about marathon training (as with saving for retirement), is that it takes place over a looooong period of time. Sometimes it's easy to lose focus - but if you can make it, the reward is worth it!

  4. As much as I despise running, you are absolutely right with this analogy. If you' re serious about retirement, you'd prepare for it similar to how you would train for a marathon. It' s all about pacing yourself.

  5. Imagine just doing ONE thing a year? You can accomplish so much after 10 years.

    It's kinda like blogging!

    How you been?!


    1. Hey Sam,

      Sorry for the late response. Very late. Life got me sidetracked, in a good way. Spent almost half a year exploring the world and being a bad saver. It was the first time in my working life that I've spent more than I made, but I knew it only had a limited timeframe and it was really a once in a lifetime opportunity. Still trying to get back into old routines now :)

  6. I love how you refer to Social Security as a participation award. You really couldn't be more spot on. If only we could convince the nation to find a way to invest in their own retirements rather than being spoon fed! :)

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  8. You recognize their athletic prowess as a runner- but they do not epitomize muscularity or fitness. These marathon runners probably spend more time doing running and more running. Adriana Grillet

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